The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Random House, 2011, 324 pages. Hardcover, $27.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Our country has faced major problems since the early 1980s, when the "Reagan coalition began a process of dismantling effective government programs and undermining the government's capacity to help steer the economy."
Every president since Reagan, including Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, promoted those policies. Most enjoyed close relationships, and financial support, from Wall Street and its top bankers.
To meet today's challenges -- including economic globalization, disastrous environmental changes and rising costs of health care -- we might need to change our government.
If House of Representatives members did not have to run for re-election every two years, it could reduce the dominant role corporations play in almost all elections and congressional debates.
Whether you agree with him or not, Jeffrey D. Sachs offers a variety of eye-opening critiques and bold solutions to our country's problems in his new book, "The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity."
Sachs, director of the Columbia University's Earth Institute, is also a special adviser to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Sachs criticizes the increasing concentration of wealth at the top of American society and urges restoring higher tax rates on the wealthiest. The first step should end George W. Bush's tax cuts for households with annual incomes above $250,000.
"The Price of Civilization" strongly supports the right of individuals to accumulate wealth, but stresses the social responsibility to help others.
"No class war is needed or intended," Sachs writes, praising business leaders from Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, who financed public libraries and medical research centers in the late 1800s, to Bill Gates, Warrant Buffett and George Soros today.
Our country also needs a "credible third party" to counter the corrupt "duopoly" between Republicans and Democrats, Sachs argues.
Today, Sachs believes, both parties are "right of center" and "hew to a fairly narrow range of policies, and not the ones that are solving America's problems."
Both parties have failed to take any action to cut federal deficits.
Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, Sachs points out, were central actors in the 2008 financial crisis. Yet those firms were "the very places to which Obama turned to staff the senior economic posts of his administration. ...
"The bankers who brought down the world economy remain at the top of the heap."
The federal government did little to control huge salaries and bonuses collected by leaders of those banking conglomerates, in part because of the money they spent to finance campaigns of political leaders.
The three other industries with the most political lobbyists today are the military-industrial complex, Big Oil companies and health care -- particularly pharmaceutical and insurance companies.
Poor and working people lose influence
One result of increasing power wielded by lobbyists and corporate executives is that poor Americans "are typically not wooed and are often not even mentioned in the campaigns, since they are rarely the swing votes," Sachs writes.
During the three 2008 presidential debates between Obama and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., neither candidate mentioned the words "poor" or "poverty" even once.